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If you are the proud owner of a new solar setup or want to get one in the nearest future, you’ll need to make sure that you get the best solar charge controller to not only keep your batteries full but also working safely and correctly.
A solar charge controller is a highly advanced piece of technology. As such, there are lots of things that we took into account for this review, and you should consider before you make your final purchase. You will need to decide whether you want to use an MPPT or PWM system, which is very important to understand for your budget and type of system you want to employ. You will also need to be sure to get a model that has built-in maximum overload, short-circuit, and overheating protections, so nothing gets damaged. Thankfully, you can also choose the controller that will fit best with your specific setup, which should make getting the right amount of power from the sun a piece of cake!
More features: protection against reverse polarity, short-circuit, overheating, and more
If you are looking for a high-quality and affordable MPPT solar charge controller, then this just might be the best option on the market. Though it certainly isn’t designed for gigantic solar arrays, its maximum current of 60 amps, coupled with its max voltage of 100 volts, is extremely hard to beat. This is also a very compact controller, which makes it good for multiple applications, no matter if you are rigging up your RV, or setting up your off the grid cabin to use electricity from a solar array.
Since this is an MPPT controller, you are guaranteed to make your setup a lot more efficient than with a PWM model. In fact, this unit has been shown to increase the efficiency of solar panels by about 30-40%, which is quite significant.
The display on this model is another positive. It is quite large and easy to read. With it, you can easily check the voltage of your battery and the amount of power coming from your solar panels. This information is very helpful in tracking the efficiency of your setup.
This is also one of the safest models on the market today. It has multiple safety systems built-in, which will keep the controller, batteries, and panels from breaking down on you while they are in operation.
One thing that is a limiting factor in how effective this model might be is that it doesn’t support all types of batteries. It can be used with gel, flooded, and sealed lead-acid batteries. It cannot, unfortunately, be used successfully with lithium-ion models, which are the most efficient options out there. It will, however, do a very good job of keeping the other types of batteries charged and ready to use.
More features: metal case; comes with a remote meter
The thing that really helps to set this model apart from its competitors is just how efficient it is. While you would expect that an MPPT solar charge controller is really efficient, this model takes it to a new level. No matter the operating conditions, you should expect that this unit will help your solar array to be 99.5% efficient. This means, basically, that you get a lot of energy for your money with this unit, and you shouldn’t have to worry about your system leaving you without power if you have this unit installed correctly.
This unit is also highly durable. The casing, which is usually plastic on other units, is made of high-quality metal. This metal casing will keep the unit from being bumped or broken, which should, in turn, keep it working for a good long time.
This controller is a great option if you have a larger solar array. It has a very high maximum input and Voc, which allows it to quickly charge batteries from larger arrays. It also has a lot of safety features built-in to keep it running smoothly without doing any damage to your systems. This includes a well-made heat sink that will help to keep the device from overheating, even in higher temperatures.
One thing that you will want to keep in mind with this model is that, since it is designed to be used with larger arrays, it is more difficult to install. The actual controller doesn’t have any display or control buttons on it, so you will have to also install the remote meter that is provided with the system in order to check its status or make adjustments.
More features: automatically detects 12V/24V/36V/48V systems
If you are not worried about the spacing requirements for your new system and want a model that has an extremely high maximum power input, current, and Voc, then this is the model for you. Though it is on the larger side of things, that allows it to operate with a much larger solar array. With this model, you can recharge up to 48 volts at 3200 watts. Plainly put, you can bring in a ton of power with this unit, making it perfect for arrays with 6-10 solar panels.
Something else that really helps to set this unit apart is its ability to calibrate its power output to match the battery system that you have in place. While many other controllers require you to select your battery setup, this unit will automatically detect it right off the bat, which will not only save you a lot of time, but it will also make sure that you are set up correctly, which is a big help to beginners.
Another big positive is that this model can be used with any type of battery, including lithium-ion units. This versatility will allow you to choose the type of battery that works best for your system and your budget, which is a big plus if you want to get the most out of your solar array.
This unit also has a very simple display that provides you with all of the pertinent information you need at the touch of a button. The controller also has lots of safety systems built-in to help protect the controller, your array, and your batteries from any unnecessary damage.
If you are in the market for a great controller for your RV solar array, then this might be the right controller for you. First of all, this is an extremely compact unit, which makes it much easier to fit on the limited wall space of an RV or travel trailer. It can be flush-mounted on the wall, which makes it seem like it was always a part of the setup inside of the RV. This keeps it out of the way, which is a big plus when space is at such a premium. The device also has a built-in USB port, which adds another charging option for your phone or tablet.
While this unit is a PWM controller, it is still capable of bringing in plenty of electricity. It can bring in 30A of current and 50 volts so that your batteries will get charged relatively quickly. Of course, these numbers will be effected in hotter or colder weather, which is to be expected with this style of controller.
Something else that really helps to set this unit apart is that, unlike many of its competitors, this model can be connected to your smartphone with Bluetooth. This will allow you to check all of the pertinent data right on your phone, which is much better than look at the small screen on the unit.
Of course, you will need to purchase an additional Bluetooth module in order to use this feature. While this will add a bit to the overall purchase price, it shouldn’t break the bank. This helps to make it a worthwhile purchase.
More features: dual USB output; dual DC 12V output; temperature sensor
Depending on the size of your solar setup, you probably don’t want to spend a ton of money to keep your batteries filled. If that is the case for your particular needs, then this might be a great option. This PWM charge controller is cost-effective for a smaller system. It is a PWM model that is very easy to set up, thanks to its practical design.
While this unit is not a good idea for larger arrays, it is perfect for keeping one battery charged, as long as it is a lead-acid battery and not a lithium model. Even though this is a simple system, it still offers plenty of protection and comes with a temperature sensor to make sure that your batteries don’t overheat while they are charging.
Something else that makes this a really nice option is that it comes with two different USB ports. These ports can be used to charge up your smartphone, tablet, or camera. This is a really convenient feature since so many daily electronics are beginning to utilize this charging system.
The only real issue with this system is that it can be very hard to see in bright light. The LCD display, which works perfectly in darker settings, is not quite bright enough to see when the sun is in the sky. This isn’t the biggest deal, but if you are someone that likes to keep track of how your system is performing, it could be a bit of a bother.
What stands out?
Dual USB output
What cons did we manage to find?
Things to Consider
In this section, we will go through everything that you need to know to find the best solar charge controller for your system. We have also taken the time to answer several frequently asked questions, so be sure to read through those as well if you need any further clarification.
Why you need a solar charge controller
As you might have guessed from their name, a charge controller is just that, a controller, or a regulator. This regulator is designed to keep your solar battery from overcharging. Since batteries are only rated for a certain voltage capacity, you do not want to exceed that. If you do, that can lead to permanent damage and loss of function over time. Since these batteries are usually very expensive, you want to make sure that they last as long as possible. A solar charge controller helps to make sure that damage doesn’t occur from overloading the battery.
Charge controllers are not necessary for every solar system, however. If, for instance, you are installing a solar system on your home, but will remain connected to the electrical grid infrastructure from your power company, you will not need a charge controller. In this instance, once your home’s battery is full, the extra electricity will be funneled back to the grid, which will keep your battery from becoming damaged.
If, however, you are going to install an off-grid solar array, then you are going to need a controller. An example of this system would be an off the grid cabin, RV, or boat. Since these systems are not connected to the electrical grid and will have nowhere to go with the excess energy created by the solar panels, you will need to get a charge controller to keep your batteries safe and functioning properly.
Features to consider when choosing a solar charge controller
It should come as no surprise that when it comes to choosing a new solar charge controller, there are a lot of different factors that need to be considered. In this section, we will guide you through these aspects in detail, so that you can make an informed decision when you are ready to buy.
MPPT or PWM?
When it comes to finding your new solar charge controller, the first thing that you need to determine is what type of controller you want. There are two different options to choose from, which include PWM, or Pulse Width Modulation, or Maximum Power Point Tracking, also known as MPPT. These two types are both effective but are better suited to different types of arrays. You need to make sure you understand your system’s power capabilities before you make your final decision as to which type to purchase, as both systems have their pros and cons in different applications.
PWM – Pulse Width Modulation solar charge controllers are the most common type of charge controller available to consumers. They are a much simpler system than MPPT models, which helps to make them much less expensive. It does, however, limit their effectiveness on larger solar arrays. Basically, these controllers work by slowing down the amount of power going into the battery as it approaches its capacity. When the battery is completely full, these controllers allow a small amount of power to come into the battery, which allows it to constantly remain full without overdoing it. These controllers require that the solar panel system and the battery have the same voltage, which is usually the case for smaller setups, but not usually true for larger systems. PWM controllers are also more affected by the weather than MPPT models, as they begin to lose efficiency if they are too hot or too cold.
MPPT – MPPT controllers are much more expensive and complex than PWM systems. They work in much the same manner in that they will reduce the amount of power coming into the battery as it begins to fill. However, where they vary quite a bit is that they do not require the solar panels and batteries to have the same voltage. MPPT controllers are designed to adjust their input so that they bring in as much power as possible from your solar array. They are also able to change their output to match the battery. This makes MPPT controllers much more efficient than PWM controllers, as they allow you to utilize the full potential of your solar set up more completely. These controllers are also unaffected by weather. Regardless of how hot or cold it might be outside, they will bring in just as much electrical energy for your setup as they would on a more mild day.
Maximum input power (voltage)
You will also have to figure out exactly how much power your system is going to produce. This is especially important if you are going to be using a PWM controller since this voltage will need to match up with your battery since these controllers are not capable of converting the power input to match the output like an MPPT system. The Renogy Adventurer is a good option if you want a PWM system, as it can handle up to 50 VDC, which is pretty high for this type of controller. It will allow you to charge your batteries at a lower cost. However, you need to be sure that your batteries will match up with your system with a PWM controller like this one.
If you have a larger array that produces a ton of electricity, then you will probably want an MPPT controller like the EPEVER Tracer4215BN. This model can handle up to 520W of input for a 12V battery, or 1040W for 24 volts. You also won’t have to worry as to whether or not your batteries match up to the input since this type of controller will convert the input to match the output.
Maximum power current
The maximum power current is the amount of energy that your solar system and the solar controller can handle flowing through it at one time. The last thing that you want to do is to get a controller that cannot handle all of the electricity that your system is producing since it will be wasted. Basically, for every 100-watt solar panel that you have, you can count on about 6 amps of power during full sun hours. If you have a larger setup, then you will need a controller that can handle a higher maximum power current. On the other hand, if you have a very simple system, then you can probably get by with a controller with a lower maximum current rating.
For instance, if you have a very small setup, then you could go with something along the lines of the GHB Solar Charge Controller. This PWM controller has a lower current rating but will be perfect for smaller systems. If, however, you have a very large system, then you will want to get an MPPT controller like the OOYCYOO MPPT Charge Controller. This controller has a maximum current rating of 40 amps. This means, basically, that it can handle up to 6 100-watt solar panels that are producing 6 amps each without any issue. For even larger setups, the Renogy Rover PG is an awesome option. This model can run at 60 amps, which means it can handle up to 10 100-watt solar panels without any issue at all.
Maximum PV open circuit voltage
The open-circuit voltage, or Voc, is how many volts the solar panels in your array will be able to produce with a load on it. This number can be found when measuring across the plus and minus leads with a voltmeter. This number is very important since it is the maximum amount of voltage that solar panels can produce under standard conditions, which can be used to determine how many solar panels can be wired into a solar charge controller. By making sure that your panels don’t go over your controller’s maximum, you will protect the systems from being damaged.
If you have a smaller array, then you can get by with something like the Renogy Adventurer, which has a Voc or 50 volts. This makes it a great option for single or dual panel systems that are used to power smaller electronics. However, if your array is on the larger side, then you could go with something like the Renogy Rover PG. This model can handle up to 150 volts, which makes it great for arrays that have 6 or more panels.
Dimensions and mounting options
Something else that you will need to keep in mind with your new controller is how much space it will take up. How much these dimensions matter will really depend on where you are going to be using your new controller. If you are, for instance, installing it in a barn, house, or cabin, then you will not have to worry about the size of the system as much as you would if you were putting it into an RV or travel trailer. Since these locations have a much more limited amount of space, you will want to shoot for a smaller model so that it doesn’t take up too much room.
As far as mounting options go, the most common way mount these controllers is on the wall. Many of them have a back panel that gets screwed into the wall, and the controller slides into place. Some of the larger models need to screw into studs, since they have a bit more heft to them, while the smaller options can usually be attached pretty much anywhere without any issue.
Ease of Installation
No matter how you slice it, installing a new solar system is not a job for a novice. Even if you are someone that works on electrical systems regularly, solar systems present a few different challenges that you might not be aware of. As such, it is probably a good idea, unless you are a master electrician, to have someone else install your new solar system and solar charge controller for you. The last thing that you want to do is make a mistake and damage such an expensive system.
Of course, if you are fully committed to completing the installation on your own, then you might want to go for a PWM system. These controllers are a bit less complicated than their MPPT counterparts, which might make them just simple enough for a DIYer to hook up correctly.
There are lots of extra features that you can choose from when it comes to finding a new charge controller for your solar system. The very first, and perhaps, most important extra feature to keep in mind are built-in safety systems. These might include protection against reverse polarity, short-circuit, or overheating. When it comes to electrical systems, there is no such thing as too many precautions. The more safety features a controller has, the better off you will be in the long run.
Another feature that you might want to consider having on your controller are USB ports. As more and more pieces of essential electronics begin to utilize this type of charging port, it only makes sense to add some to your space if possible. That way, you can easily charge your phone, camera, or tablet with ease.
As we mentioned above, these solar charge controllers can be a bit tricky to install. This is especially true if they need to be calibrated to match your solar panels. Thankfully, some models come with a built-in sensor to automatically detect the power output of your system and can align themselves to work correctly right when you start them up. This will save you a bit of time on the installation process and will also make sure your system is running to its full capacity. The Renogy Rover PG is a great example of a model that includes this feature.
While any of the different options on our list can be utilized in an RV or travel trailer, we found that the Renogy Adventurer is the best model to be used in this circumstance. This is for two reasons. First of all, it is a relatively compact model that can be flush-mounted on a wall. It is light enough that you do not need to attach it to any studs, which makes it perfect for an RV. Secondly, while it is a PWM model, it can still handle a high level of power, which is good for both small and medium-sized solar arrays.
No matter if you choose a negative or positive ground model, you will be getting one that is completely safe, as long as you hook them up properly. Negative grounded models will be grounded by connecting the negative to a metal ground rod or, in the case of an RV, part of the chassis. If you have a positive ground model, then the unit will be grounded correctly by hooking it up to the different electronics the system will power. Make sure you understand which type of system you are getting so that you can install it correctly if you are doing it yourself.
If you are in the market for the best overall solar charge controller, then the OOYCYOO MPPT Charge Controller is the model we recommend that you check out first. This controller is relatively cheap for an MPPT model, easy to install, and comes with loads of protections to keep your systems running efficiently and safely.
The EPEVER Tracer 4215BN is a great charge controller if you are looking to work with a larger solar array. Its maximum input power is among the best on the market, and the controller is very easy to use, making it a great buy. It is also 99.5% efficient at all times, which is, obviously, ideal.
The Renogy Rover PG is the best solar controller if you don’t mind spending a bit more money. This MPPT controller is great for any kind of battery and will automatically set itself up to fit your system correctly.